The rising cost of utilities has hit the restaurant industry hard. For the Prairie du Sac, Wisc.-based Culver's Restaurants, with 376 locations in 17 states, fuel is a major expense for the company and its franchisees. After seeing utility costs dramatically increase, Culver's knew the time had come to cut its energy use.
"We started looking at how we could take a dime off here, five cents there," says Tom Williams, director of building services for the franchise organization. After examining ways to conserve everything from water to fuel oil to electricity, the chain put its conservation efforts in place.
As a result, according to Williams, "the pennies we saved soon became dollars, and the dollars became a lot of dollars."
When it comes to putting an energy program in place, Williams's word of advice is to "do things that make easy sense first. Fixing a drippy faucet can save a restaurant $1,200 a year."
"The key is to create awareness and show team members how using energy affects the bottom line of the restaurants -- and ultimately, how that affects them. Once you create awareness and ask your team to make changes, they will."
That's what Culver's did as they implemented simple processes such as having employees turn cooking hoods off at night, turn fryers off when not needed and stagger start times for kitchen equipment.
To cut electricity use, Culver's put timers on inside and outside lights, replaced neon signs with LED lights, and installed compact fluorescent bulbs. The chain also switched to low-energy LED exit signs, costing $1,000 less to run than typical exit signs.
Continuing their energy efforts, Culver's recommends using six-inch rather than four-inch insulation, added awnings over windows and installed new cooking hood systems. Williams says the more energy-efficient hoods make a significant difference by keeping the kitchens cooler.
For water conservation, Culver's recommends installing low-flow spray valves that cost $40 each. Culver's says the new valves pay for themselves in a year and save an estimated 123,000 gallons of water a year per store.
Most recently Culver's installed recycling centers at their family restaurants. The company is teaching guests to separate their recyclables. "Consumers like this and are actually taking time to separate what they have on their trays," says Williams.
One Culver's location took conservation one step further by becoming the first restaurant in the United States to heat water using leftover cooking oil. It was a challenge, company officials report. No other restaurant had attempted this before, and the restaurant had to work closely with fire marshals and health inspectors. But their work paid off. In the first month, the restaurant saved $270 on energy and fuel costs. A year and a half later, the system is still saving money.